By Michael Grey
Five thoughts on the week that was in Seattle sports and beyond:
The first Matchday of the year is here
To quote "Sounders FC Weekly" host Matt Johnson, "I'm not interested in being a soccer-hater fighter". If you don't enjoy MLS and aren't at all interested in the phenomenon of Sounders FC, there's nothing I can say that will sway you and I won't try. However, no one can deny the fact that Seattle is the epicenter of American soccer and if you haven't taken in a match at CenturyLink Field you really are missing out on one of the most unique environments in sports. A Sounders match was the first Seattle event I took my family to when we moved here last year and I was blown away. It's a special environment, one the fans here can and should take great pride in. Sounders FC, along with Timbers FC in Portland, are rapidly changing expectations for all of the MLS and creating a culture that is Pacific Northwest to the core. You already know what fiercely loyal, passionate sports fans exist here in Seattle and if you haven't seen how our city celebrates the Beautiful Game, you owe it to yourself to experience it. EBFG.
Michael Bennett has left the building, for now
The Seahawks reportedly put an offer in front of defensive lineman Michael Bennett but it was not enough to keep him from exploring the free-agent market in search of a better deal. The bad news is that Bennett is a playmaker that the Seahawks could definitely use next season. The good news is that coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have proven to be incredibly shrewd with their road map for offseason contracts and personnel moves. Avoiding a panic move or overpaying players are underappreciated policies. Discretion is the better part of valor after all, right? It's possible that a team could break the bank for a proven pass rusher, but it's also possible that the market is nowhere near what Bennett expects it to be and the chance to return to Seattle will be just too good to pass up, again.
Brandon Browner fought the law and ... he won?
Brandon Browner's tweet on Tuesday that he had been reinstated by the NFL came as a surprise to experts far and wide. It was only a few days earlier that the cornerback's lawyer/representative had promised to "sue the daylights" out of the NFL. It's not often that the NFL blinks. It's also not often that the NFL is this wrong. To advance Browner through the ranks of the substance-abuse program at a time when he was not under contract with a NFL team is ludicrous. Imagine being fired from any other job but still being expected to come in for drug testing; it's beyond silly. However, Browner himself put his career in jeopardy with a decision to allow anything that violates league policy into his system at a time when he knew what phase of the league policy he was in. Browner violated the substance-abuse policy in Denver, the performance-enhancing drug policy in Seattle and the substance-abuse policy in Seattle, so the compromise to miss four games to start 2014 while being allowed to sign a free-agent contract with a team seems remarkably just. Hopefully Browner can put this behind him and allow his playmaking to define the remainder of his career.
James Paxton is important
I asked Mariners fans on Twitter this week what their top concern was as the team approaches opening day (and if you're not following me @TheMichaelGrey, you're missing a chance to answer incredibly important questions like this). The No. 1 response by some margin was the rotation. Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker seemed to be on everyone's mind, and despite the promise of more offense, Mariners fans seem very uneasy with the "King Felix and Other" approach to the rotation. Enter: James Paxton. Mariners fans know the promise that Paxton has held for some time and he had another nice three-inning, no-run outing this week. Better still, according to Shannon Drayer he's not only a lock for the rotation but looks like he may be the No. 2 starter to begin the season. If that's true and Scott Baker – one of the guys I believe has to come through for the Mariners to improve – can produce, the Mariners could have enough starting pitching to get them into April when the big guns can work their way back into the rotation.
Nothing beats a number retirement
Having just seen Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom watch his No. 5 hoisted to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena Thursday night I was reminded that there's nothing better than a number retirement. It's the ultimate nod to a player for leaving an indelible mark on a franchise to be sure, but it's also a wonderful opportunity for fans to celebrate their heroes. In this case, to see the most amazing NHL defenseman of a generation – and I would argue of all time – honored in the only city he ever played brought back memories of road trips, late nights in front of the TV and a parade or two with the greatest trophy in all of sport. Heck, even members of the opposing team came out of the locker room to watch the presentation and take in the sights. There might just be a couple of future honorees in our midst right now in Seattle and while it's great to watch them set those records and win those titles, there's just something extra special about that ceremony and the reflection that goes along with it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and have a great weekend.